David Bowie was an iconic figure with a unique evolution. As one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, people were paying close attention.
But it was more than just a shift in sound. His fashion and persona went through complex changes over the decades.
Today we’ll explore how this musician who helped shape the sound of modern pop evolved throughout his career.
The Story of David Bowie
Born David Johnson in 1947, the musical chameleon grew up in Southeast London. He exhibited creativity at an early age with imaginative dances and a clear skill with the recorder. At age 13, he took up the saxophone and continued to expand his skills with other instruments.
His older half-brother greatly influenced his love of music and introduced him to many of his favorite styles. Unfortunately, his brother was committed to an asylum due to complications with schizophrenia. The experience had a significant effect on David and influenced his art.
He started his professional music career at age 16, though it would be some time before he saw widespread success. Around this time, he changed his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees.
Bowie took a break from music in his early 20s to live in a Buddhist monastery and also started a mime troupe. However, he couldn’t stay away from his true passion for long.
David Bowie signed with Mercury Records in 1969 and released Space Oddity, his first major single. The BBC used the song as part of its coverage of the Apollo 11 mission, which helped it capture the public’s imagination.
But he refused to let his early success define his sound. David Bowie embraced experimentation throughout his career, and his evolution inspires future generations. He died of liver cancer in 2016, just days after releasing his final album.
What Were Bowie’s Different Fashion Stages?
As a fashion pioneer, Bowie frequently embraced androgynous looks and refused to conform to traditional gender roles in his clothing choices. His style defined many of the glam rock looks and continues to live on in fashion choices today.
But it’s hard to nail him down with just one look. In the early 70s, he wore bold reds and psychedelic jumpsuits. Bowie used wild makeup to accompany his style, a call back to his time as a mime.
In the 80s, he embraced bold monochrome power suits with padded shoulders. And he wasn’t afraid to shy away from bold prints occasionally.
By the 90s, he took a more toned-down approach. Long, double-breasted jackets and pleated trousers with heeled boots defined his look. The different appearances helped him develop stage personas to overcome his shyness and help him stay in character while he performed.
The Evolution of David Bowie’s Hairstyles
Few musicians were brave enough to try so many radical hairdos. But Bowie’s coiffure shifted with the times, even from one album to the next. In his earliest records, he had a typical shaggy cut like The Beatles before he broke into the mainstream.
In the early 70s, he sported the long hippie locks but turned things up a notch once he went mod. Red dye, shaggy bangs, and a controlled mane helped David Bowie enter this new evolution with a more gender-bending look.
Next, he went more minimalist with a slightly longer, slicked-back style. But once the 80s rolled around, the mullet wasn’t far behind. The long hair and choppy blocks seemed to have the same feel as many future Japanese cartoon characters.
In the 90s, he kicked up the bleached tips and added some color to the gel-filled spikes. He also sported a variety of unfortunate facial hair statements. But no matter the style, his fingers were never far from the pulse of the trends.
Did Bowie Have Different Musical Personas?
David Bowie took on new personas throughout his evolution. Each one had a distinct look and sound associated with it. You can find a definitive number because the lines seem to blur between each character. Here are a few of the most important.
The alien aesthetic that Bowie brought to his first official character set him apart from other artists of the time. The story behind the character had a nihilistic inspiration.
Ziggy Stardust was an alien rock messiah trying to warn Earth of its coming doom. The character is worshiped as a messiah and eventually dies as a victim of excess and fame. It serves as a commentary on celebrity worship. The music had a spacey, trippy rock feel that matched the tone of his character.
Shortly after his rise to fame, David Bowie continued his evolution into Aladdin Sane starting in 1976. The name is a bit of wordplay on “a lad insane.” Perhaps a subtle nod to his brother. In fact, on The Man Who Sold the World album, many songs explore mental illness
The sound was similar to his Ziggy phase but with a harder edge while keeping the glam rock attitude. Alladin Sane was relatively short-lived, but some of his most iconic songs are from the period.
Thin White Duke
Perhaps his most fluctuating character, the Thin White Duke, marked his turn towards a funkier, soul-filled sound. This was when disco started to reach the mainstream, and his songs had more of a dance feel.
While he received criticism for being a White man playing Black music, he embraced it and coined the term plastic soul. The phrase pays homage to the irony while also nodding toward his fluidity as a character. The character, in general, was darker than his earlier, goofier image.
The Genius of David Bowie
David Bowie refused to be pinned down to one look or sound, and his evolution inspired artists across genres to experiment. His final album, Blackstar, was a meditation on life and death and remains one of his finest. It serves as a reminder of just how much he continued to grow, even when his audience didn’t always approve.
No matter what ideas he was toying with or how successful they were, he refused to grow stale like so many artists from the 70s. Despite his vast body of work, he was always a performer and writer first. He dove deep into his experiments and worked hard on concepts other artists wouldn’t be brave enough to try.
Even after his death, his music remains trendy. You can hear the sounds of his work living on in contemporary music, and his wild fashion continues to inspire on the red carpet.
A Musician Like No Other
The evolution of David Bowie happened in the studio as well as in front of the camera. His massive music catalog includes solo work and unique collaborations with other artists. He left a lasting impression as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.
While his tragic death left a void, what remains is an inspiring career waiting for new fans to discover.
What was your favorite Bowie era? Let us know in the comments!